Sunday, December 03, 2006

Spindle Cells in Whales

Here is an interesting discovery. According to an article by Andy Coghlan in the New Scientist this week spindle cells have been found in the brains of whales. Spindle cells are long spindle-shaped neurons hitherto thought to occur just in the brains of humans and the great apes. They are thought to feature in 'visceral' reactions - an example is judging whether or not another individual is suffering.

If these cells are part of what 'makes us human' it is unfortunate to find that we share these cells with whales because it not only makes us feel even less unique but also makes killing whales for small parts of their anatomy even more ethically problematic.

Other questions spring to mind too: for instance one of the features of autism is the inability to empathise with facial expressions and I wonder if the spindle cells in autistic people have been examined...but I expect they have - a long time ago, perhaps...

6 Comments:

Anonymous marly said...

Despite having an interest in autism spectrum disorders, I don't know much about this except that spindle cells and brain development are also talked about in connection with Tourette's and ADHD. (And would be enlightened if you wrote a brilliant little mini-essay on it!)

Sun Dec 03, 01:37:00 am  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

And elephants too I believe have this same empathy ... and it's these animals that are also able to recognise their own reflection in the mirror isn't it? (Altho' I don't know how they could test a whale on this ... I believe I read that it was dolphins ...) Fascinating.

Sun Dec 03, 10:50:00 am  
Blogger twitches said...

Interesting, the connections keep getting more and more intricate, and more and more simple at the same time.

Sun Dec 03, 02:13:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Marly: that's an attractive challenge - I just put spindle cells and autism into google and quite a stunning selection of papers came up so maybe there is a connection...which is enticing me rather a lot, but I must resist...focus...

CB: I hadn't heard about the elephants, but I think somewhere in the back of my mind I remember hearing about them recognising themselves...certainly dolphins do, you're right - the article mentioned dolphins. Now I'm wondering if my autisitic nephew recognises himself and I have a strong feeling that he does, but I'm not sure.

Twitches: Love the hair! Yes - that's true. A rather wonderful contradition. Like a network of branches in an old forest - at first everything seems random and then you step back and it starts making sense...well, a little.

Sun Dec 03, 11:31:00 pm  
Anonymous Maxine said...

Quite different from the mitotic spindle, then?

Sat Dec 09, 10:33:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Maxine: had to look up mitotic spindle, I have to admit...urgh...cell division was never my favourite topic - it seemed like such a complicated dance, so hypnotic and frustrating. But spindle cells have little to do with mitotic spindles - unless they divide by mitosis, I guess...

Sun Dec 10, 08:30:00 pm  

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to moderation.

<< Home